Could students benefit from year-round school?

New York state requires 180 instructional days in the classroom. Historically speaking, those 180 days are spread out between the months of September through June, with July and August serving as summer recess.

But, what if a district took those 180 days and spread them out over an entire 12-month calendar year? At one school in West Virginia, administrators, teachers and parents swear by a year-round calendar that has the same number of teaching days as any other school, but spread throughout the year.

WATCH VIDEO: Could students benefit from year-round school? (PBS News)

Friday Rundown 9.5.14

By now, most students across New York state have returned to school. If you were busy and missed anything this week getting the kids ready for school, we’ve got you covered. Here’s this week’s Rundown.

State backing off on Common Core mandates after so many weighed in (Albany Times Union)

Astorino’s plan: Regents overhaul, Common Core replacement, vouchers (Capital New York)

NYSUT fights back in tenure attack (Albany Times Union)

School lunch prices on the rise (Buffalo news)

Opinion: Cuomo must use state surplus to remedy separate and unequal education system (Buffalo News)

Common Core to sink or swim this school year (Journal News)

State Board of Regents plans easier paths to high school graduation (NY Daily News)

View: Smart Schools bond a bad investment (Journal News)

What it actually takes for schools to ‘go digital’ (The Herchinger Report)

Friday Rundown 8.22.14

Happy Friday! It’s one of the last weekends of summer and schools are gearing up to open. The schools receiving Pre-K grant funding have been released just a few weeks before the school year begins. According to recent educational polling, many support common educational standards, but not the Common Core in particular. Some credit this to the poor implementation, funding questions and issues with the standardized tests. Educators are hoping the Pre-K roll out will go more smoothly. Read about this and more in this week’s Friday Rundown stories.

Poll: Common Core support among teachers plummets, with fewer than half supporting it (The Washington Post)

Schools allotted $4M for pre-K programs (Albany Times Union)

Seeking New Start, Finding Steep Cost (New York Times)

Study these schools (New York Daily News)

Comparing PDK and Education Next Polls (Education Next)

Common Core: State pays schools to reduce tests (The Journal News)

Teachout talks education, energy in run vs. Cuomo (Poughkeepsie Journal)

Smart School Act will show it works (Albany Times Union)

Newest Schenectady graduates used summer school as ‘life lesson’ (Daily Gazette)

Obama’s Learning Curve (Wall Street Journal)

Letter: Laptops top list of schools’ needs (The Journal News)

A shocking statistic about the quality of education research (The Washington Post)

NY ‘fixed’ Common Core tests — and scores surged (New York Post)

Friday Rundown 8.15.14

The back to school season has many of us thinking about going to bed earlier, shopping for school supplies, studying and textbooks. Reporters are evidently thinking the same, in addition to pension costs, budgets and the newly released 3-8 test scores. For more information, check out these stories from this week’s Friday Rundown.

Release of Grades 3-8 Assessment Scores

N.Y. school pension costs will rise 7.8% (The Journal News)

Not Everyone Has the Tools to Become Rich: How Our Childhood Shapes Our Ability to Succeed (Huffington Post)

SUNY project helps top teachers master skills to benefit students (Middletown Times Herald Record)

Private contractors cut school costs (Times Union)

Second year of Common Core tests shows math scores inch up, English scores flat (The Journal News)

Language on N.Y. ballots raises concerns again (The Poughkeepsie Journal)

Michelle Rhee Prepares To Leave CEO Job At StudentsFirst, Group She Founded (Huffington Post)

No, third grade is not the year when kids go from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn’ (Washington Post)

Going broke sending the kids back to school? Average cost of school supplies tops $100 (Today.com – NBC News)

The Teen Who Woke Up Her School (Huffington Post)

Common-Core Math Textbooks to Get Online Ratings (Education Week)

NYSUT plans to shred symbolic contract in protest

New York teachers are planning to protest the privatization of public education by shredding a symbolic contract with giant testing company Pearson.

The protest by leaders of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) will be held Monday, August 11, at 7:30 p.m. on the steps of the State Education Department.

According to NYSUT, teachers will feed the symbolic Pearson contract into paper shredders. The protest – which will be joined by New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento and United University Professions President Fred Kowal, among others – is part of NYSUT’s three-day endorsement conference, where local union presidents will weigh the voting records and make recommendations on candidates for state and federal office.

“This protest underscores, once again, the undue corporate influence on the education of children,” NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said. “We are speaking out against deep-pocket forces that want to privatize public education and erode due process rights.”

Friday Rundown 8.8.14

A good Friday morning to you. For most New York school districts, the first day of school is less than a month away. Can you believe that? Here’s your Rundown from the last week.

State Ed releases half of Common Core test questions (Buffalo News)

NY Minute: Cuomo considers tax break, school aid for $4.2 billion in extra cash (Syracuse Post Standard)

School reforms that actually work (The Washington Post)

Three takeaways from The Colbert Report’s teacher-tenure talk (Chalkbeat)

A lesson from South Korea: Student resistance to high-stakes testing (The Washington Post)

Gov. Cuomo signs law requiring coaches to report signs of child abuse (NY Daily News)

Boston Research Finds Kids’ Brains Benefit From Playing Music (WBUR)

Cracking the Girl Code: How to End the Tech Gender Gap (Time)

NY to invest $14M to promote stem cell education (Utica Observer Dispatch)

The Top Twitter Feeds in Education Policy 2014 (Spoiler alert: @edspeaksNY did not make the list, though we would appreciate a follow from you!) (Education Next)

Shannan Speaks: Don’t sacrifice the strongest aspects of our education system

Shannan Costello is an intern for the Capital Region BOCES Communications Service. She is a senior at Marist College where she is majoring in Communications with a concentration in Public Relations. She will be contributing content to Education Speaks throughout the summer from the unique perspective of a college senior.

Americans worry, with good reason, about our nation’s position in today’s global world. The U.S. has long been a world power, and with American students trailing in math and science compared to many Asian and Nordic countries there is a fear we are losing our edge. Since children are the future, education is key to our country’s long-term success.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) comes out with reports based on an international standardized test ranking the competitiveness of most industrialized nations on an international scale. The most recent round of PISA testing revealed that American 15-year-olds fall 27th out of 34 countries in mathematics proficiency.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently administered a new exam to international college graduates. This test, the Piaac, found that Americans with Bachelors degrees placed 16th out of 24 nations in numeracy–well below the international average score. While it is universally agreed upon that the United States is home to the majority of the world’s best higher education institutions, on average U.S. college grads are also lagging. Common Core learning standards have focused the nation’s attention to K-12 education and how the U.S. compares globally. College graduates have never before been compared internationally in the same way high school students have. Perhaps with the new OECD test results, higher education will be the next front.

As a two-time study abroad student, I learned a lot about globalization, foreign cultures and foreign education. Spending three semesters in two different European countries opened my eyes to the education systems, values and techniques in different countries. My first experience was in a country that consistently ranks below the U.S. on these international exams, Italy, and my second was in a country that typically outranks us and performs slightly above average, France. Of course, my experience was only at the college/university level, which differs from primary and secondary education. However, I did notice some cultural and educational differences that I think are connected to the performance on these exams.

My friends and I often conversed and compared our experiences abroad to what we were used to at home. There were many cultural contrasts between the three nations, but there were also differences between my educational experiences and those of the other Americans I knew while studying abroad. People thrive in different learning conditions, personal lifestyle and learning style preferences impact American students’ perceptions of international education.

In Italy my professors were relaxed, unconcerned with schedules and lesson plans. The class sizes were smaller, but there was not always more individualized attention. I attended an international school, with primarily Italian professors and students from the United States, South and Central America and other European countries. It was a different experience from the U.S. education system, but not nearly as extreme as my time in France.

Italy’s scores usually fall towards the bottom of the ranking on the PISA test just below the U.S., while France outranks us on this test. From my experience this makes sense, however that does not necessarily mean that these education systems are better or worse. Many of the differences come from varying cultural values and a different education system structure.

The French public education system is run at a national level. This means that the curriculum is basically universal. This is very different from the U.S. system, where there are general guidelines nationally, more specific ones like starting age requirements and graduation requirements at a state level and then the very specific decisions are made within the district. It makes our education system more customizable, but it can also allow for inequalities in education. Our system also makes more room for fun and learning from non-academic experiences. While these things can contribute to happier and more well rounded children, they can also mean that some of our students are very internationally competitive and prepared for college, but others are not. These things, while beneficial in their own way or for certain students, do not make for overall higher standardized test scores.

My professors in Paris, though nice people, were often quite harsh. There was no such thing as “sugarcoating” and often criticism did not feel so constructive. They demanded perfection without actually believing it was possible, but graded as if it was. In the French school system, from primary education through higher ed., they grade on a system of 0-20, but anything above 16 is almost entirely unachievable. In the American system, getting a grade of A or above 90% is achievable. Even though a grade that high is considered excellent work, students are considered capable of excellent work.

France’s negative reinforcement system makes people study very diligently and become very knowledgeable, but it also can take away from the joy of learning and can make students feel inadequate too pressured. French students acquire a lot of academic knowledge, but their teachers and professors put little value on creative thinking and individual strengths and weaknesses. France is a very formal nation and its residents value implicit understanding. For my American friends and me, studying at five different French schools, this made for a strict and confusing school system. Did my American education prepare me for this experience? Yes. I had all of the knowledge and skills I needed to make it through the semester, I had just never needed to apply them in that way or under those conditions before.

While France does outrank the U.S. on these international exams, it is not an international leader. They only fell one point above average on the college graduate numeracy test and typically hover just around average on international competiveness. I admired many of my French friends for the impressive references they made in conversation and their fluency in English. There was no doubt they were well educated and those who spent time as exchange students in the U.S. knew that. Yet, they all had extreme doubt about their English proficiency and were not very optimistic about their job prospects.

The American education system is trailing in math and science and these are extremely important for the future success of our nation. From my experience with the French system, I think it is important to remember that the countries that outrank us may have better test scores, but they are not superior in all ways. There is more to a good education than being able to pass a math test. The PISA and Piaac tests cannot truly capture this distinction.

There are unique things done right and wrong in every education system I’ve experienced. The United States’ education system has issues to fix, but it is important to find solutions that do not sacrifice the strongest aspects. The ability to compete is important in today’s global economy, but we cannot compare our education system to those of our neighbors’ and expect to find all the answers. Top ranked Shanghai has issues with equity in education that are believed help to raise the province’s scores – unlike the American educational inequities which are based on funding and trying to offer high quality education to all.

International competiveness, equality for all income levels and college/career readiness are essential to the success of the United States. Now is the time to look inward at our country’s issues and focus less on how other nations are educating children. High scoring countries can be useful models, but we cannot forget that we have offerings that they cannot or do not provide. Every student I have met –American, Italian, French, Swedish, etc. – that has experience in multiple foreign education systems, agree that there are positive and negative elements of each system. During this time of education reform in the U.S., we must consider our large and diverse population, which is fundamentally different from top performing nations like Singapore, Finland and South Korea, as well as our nation’s diverse strengths and weakness, which shape our students and therefore, our future.

Friday Rundown 7.25.14

Schools are thinking outside of the box to try to offer the best to their students. Districts have been faced with funding challenges and state and national mandates that have made it difficult to provide things such as learning technology, healthy foods that students want to eat and alternative programming for non-traditional students. Districts and students have been forced to be creative to find solutions.

The usual topics of Common Core, tenure, state aid, and national and international student competitiveness have not gone away. Here’s some other interesting news from the week.

The problem with how we talk about poverty and kids (The Washington Post)

State awards $11M in after-school grants (Capital New York)

Setting the record straight on tenure (New York Daily News)

Investing in early learning (Buffalo News)

Middle school principals discuss Common Core, technology and promoting identity formation (Albany Business Review)

US teens are flunking financial literacy test (Middletown Times Herald Record)

New York schools have lower dropout rates than national average (Watertown Daily Times)

SED to release test analysis today

In response to feedback and requests from teachers, principals, and superintendents, the State Education Department (SED) has authorized the early release of “instructional reports” for the 2014 Grades 3-8 English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics tests.

The reports, which have been made available in the past but later in the year, will give teachers and administrators a technical look at how students performed on particular questions. By releasing them early, educators now have more time to use the assessment results in planning for the upcoming school year. For example, if a class struggled with questions that measure addition and subtraction of fractions with unlike denominators, the teacher can adjust instruction next year to strengthen students’ understanding of this topic.

In addition to releasing the reports, SED said it would give out half of the questions and answers from the 2014 exams. In the past, the department released 25 percent.

According to Education Commissioner John King, the reports made available today do not include student performance levels; those statewide results will be released later this summer.

“By releasing critical data and twice as many exam questions, our staff will be better able to pinpoint which standards have been met as well as the areas that need more emphasis,” Port Byron Central School District Superintendent Neil O’Brien said. “We will have the time to make adjustments to help improve learning outcomes for students in the upcoming year. While we know the goal of the Education Department is to have all of the questions released, this is a great step in the right direction and will be of tremendous value to my students, teachers and district.”

Research: To save Common Core, New York should rethink high school exams

A new research study by New America Education says that New York state should be rethinking its graduation requirements if it has any hope of saving the poorly implemented Common Core Learning Standards.

New York is one of 24 states that utilizes “exit exams” by requiring students to be proficient on specific standardized tests in order to graduate from high school. To earn a Regents diploma, students need to score 65 or higher on the five core-subject exams (English, math, global history, U.S. History and science).

Beginning next year, NY will launch more rigorous exams aligned to the Common Core. In theory, these exams are designed to determine who is ready for college. But when used as an “exit exam,” they could now also determine who is able to go to college since they will act as a gatekeeper for earning a diploma. The study finds that states utilizing an “exit exam” format run the risk of weakening the intent of the Common Core and undermining efforts to increase rigor, according to researcher Anne Hyslop of the New America Foundation.

Concern stems from the fact that the current cut rates for exit exams would have to be greatly changed to reflect college and career readiness accurately. If states shift the standard to true “college and career readiness,” huge proportions of students could flunk since it’s estimated that “only 39 percent of the nation’s high school seniors were prepared for college-level math, and only 38 percent were prepared in reading,” based on the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

“Because states cannot – and will not – suddenly deny high school degrees to large numbers of students, particularly those who are already at-risk and furthest behind, states will likely dilute the rigor of the college-and career-ready benchmark if meeting that score is tied to graduation requirements,” Hyslop said.

Read the full report here.